Program Manager for the Student Pathways Apprenticeship Program, Robert Smith, knows a thing or two about the value of hard work and what it takes to take a win to the next level. Smith learned some of life’s biggest lessons playing soccer and is now sharing the ways to achieve personal and academic success with current and prospective students wanting to turn their dreams into reality.
When I was five years old, I was on the field. Soccer became a part of my life and my parents encouraged me to play when they saw how I performed in recreational games. By the time I was ten years old, I was in the competitive leagues. Being on a traveling competitive league, I met new people, was exposed to different cities and new landscapes. With each game, the playing field offered a fresh opportunity to push myself to support not only my team but to bring myself to another level. I was motivated and at 15-years-old started training in the Olympic Development Program where I eventually reached a performance level to try out for the western United States team, made it, and traveled around the country competing against other teams.
Soccer was never just a game. In fact, it became who I was—my identity and a huge factor for me as I prepared to transition to college. I had recruits watching my every move and reaching out to open doors to so many more opportunities. Soccer was my gateway and led me to my alma mater—the University of San Francisco (USF) where I attended my undergraduate education and where I was a member of the Men’s Soccer team.
My parents always instilled in me the importance of education and the value of hard work—even before heading to college. Using soccer as a motivation, I was taught that putting my all into everything would open pathways and for that I am grateful. Throughout my academic career, there were people who believed in me, helped me navigate challenges, and saw value in my sports background—teaching me to hold onto and utilize those experiences and lessons. This type of support is something that I wanted to pay forward to others and now, in my role at Ohlone College, I can share with other students.
After obtaining my Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs from USF, I started my professional career at Sonoma State University as a campus life advisor in the Office of Student Engagement. There, I oversaw the Sports Club Program where I was able to work with students who were passionate about their sports and have conversations about using their athletic experience for personal development.
After five years at Sonoma State, it was time to move on into a new position and that’s what led me to Ohlone where I am now entering my second year. I am thankful for my work at Ohlone because I still have the opportunity to work with prospective students and support them through the onboarding process. In my new role as the program manager for the Student Pathways Apprenticeship Program, I am able to work with a wide range of students and collaborate with some great colleagues.
I believe there are experiences and lessons that can support personal development in areas that we find passion—my path started with soccer. Whether you’re the captain of a team honing your leadership skills, a gamer playing online games with friends honing communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, or are the treasurer of a student club managing and reporting on large budgets—there is growth and development in taking action and dedicating time and effort into something. Understanding the skills that I gained from playing soccer all those years and finding out how it combined with academic achievement was important to me be who I am. Today, I pay it forward through conversations I continue to have with students and hope to inspire them to give it their all and to reach for their goals and dreams whatever path they choose.